I love clothes. I really love clothes.
I’m always noticing what everyone else is wearing. I can’t help myself.
I pretty much know what I like. And what I really don’t like.
I like it when someone looks different from the crowd. When someone has developed their own personal style. When someone is expressing themselves through what they wear. When someone has clearly thought about the whole ensemble.
Sometimes that person is me.
I used to wear what was convenient and practical and reasonably priced and would take no thought to wear. But where’s the fun in that?
Now I wear what I love. Sometimes that’s about feel as much as look. I’m a sucker for the feel of a fabric – a soft jersey cotton, that satin pocket that makes me smile, velvet – always velvet, lace…
And the look? Well, that varies…colour, tie dye, dip dye, graphic tees…boho chic, casual sportswear, dresses…lots and lots of dresses. Unusual – usually unusual in some way – asymmetric hemlines, odd buttons, anything out of the ordinary.
So fashion then. Where do I stand on fashion?
Well, it depends what you mean by fashion. If by fashion, you mean slavishly following trends, then no, I’m not into that. I hate how there are now no longer four seasons a year – clothing ranges are changing quicker than anyone can keep up with. And as soon as there’s a sense that an item is ‘so last season’, then that’s it, you can’t wear it any more. That’s crazy. If you love something, wear it as much as you want.
But if fashion is about expressing yourself through what you choose to wear, then yes, I’m all for it.
And then there’s the whole issue of fast fashion.
I’ve worked in retail recently. I know what it is to have access to cheap clothes. Really, really cheap clothes. I’ve observed how many clothes people buy – more than they could possibly ever wear. I’ve witnessed people buying a whole holiday wardrobe of clothes that they plan to leave in country when they return. Don’t get me wrong. I love a bargain. I’m inextricably drawn to sale rails. Finding an item I love at a reduced price is double the pleasure. But I have bought plenty of clothes over the years that I don’t really even like just because they’re too good a bargain to refuse. Haven’t we all? Aren’t we tempted to buy twice as much just because it’s so cheap?
We all know why our clothes are so cheap. We’ve seen the reports from Bangladesh and India and Cambodia. We know about the dangerous working conditions. We know all about sweatshops and child labour. We choose to close our minds to it, because we think there’s nothing we can do and because deep down, we don’t want to change the way we shop. It’s fun. Shopping makes us feel great. Having a new outfit is a real buzz.
And if you need reminding, watch the recent film ‘True Cost’. It’s available on Netflix. But be warned – once seen, it cannot be unseen. It’s hard to watch this film and not feel the need to change your shopping habits in some way. What struck me most about the film was not the terrible effect of fast fashion on the producers – although that is uncomfortable to witness, really uncomfortable – but the whole other side of the industry – the waste. Where do all these clothes we discard go? There are just too many out there for anyone to deal with. The planet is groaning under the weight of all these unwanted clothes (a bit of poetic license there, but you get my point).
It’s hard to change the way we think. There’s a huge pressure to conform because this type of consumerism is what makes the Western world go round and millions are invested in advertising and the media to keep us wanting more and more and more and more and more…
So how does someone like me who loves clothes and wants to respond to the fast fashion crisis across the world find a better way? Here’s the path I try to follow:-
- Not buying any clothes for a period of time
I did a whole year. Last year, for the whole of 2015, I did not buy any clothes at all. Well, to clarify – I bought items to complete my outfit for my son’s wedding; a couple of pairs of trousers I needed for a visit to the States; a skirt in the States as a souvenir of my trip. And that was it. Genuinely, that was it. No underwear even. And you know what? I survived! I had something to wear every day. Even for nights out. The sky didn’t fall in. My world didn’t unravel. I didn’t lose friends. I didn’t smell or look unkempt. And in one way, I felt completely liberated, completely set free from the tyranny of shopping.
This is a great exercise. It reveals how dependent we have become on shopping. And how we don’t need to be.
- Buying with a clear intention
When January 1st 2016 arrived, I bought a dress. At half past midnight, Half an hour into the New Year. It was a dress I’d seen six weeks before and had waited and waited. It was the opposite of an impulse buy. And I love that dress!
Anyway, after that, I didn’t rush out and buy everything, just because I could. I changed my thinking. As a family, we took it a month at a time. In January, we all had a good look at our underwear drawers. We sorted them out and threw away some items and each wrote a list of what we needed. We shopped around. This is intentional shopping. In February, it was nightwear, March sportswear, April T shirts (although we’ve currently got stuck on that one which is the subject of an upcoming blog!). Anyway, you get the idea.
If you’re buying new, only ever buy what you’re sure you really need.
- Buying from charity shops
The above doesn’t apply to buying from charity shops. I’ve decided that I will buy something in every charity shop I go into – to support the charity and to recycle a perfectly good piece of clothing. Buying from a charity shop is a real adventure and I love it. You never know what to expect.
- Wearing other people’s clothes
I do quite a lot of this too. Some would say I have no pride. I would say that is a good thing! Although I used to feel I had to wear everything everyone gave me and felt guilty when I didn’t, but I’ve managed to be far more discerning now. If I try something out and it doesn’t make me feel great, then it has to go. I apply that to everything in my wardrobe. Decluttering helps you really see what you’ve got.
- Buying ethically
I’ve been around the fair trade and ethical fashion world a while. I was buying Traidcraft clothing as long as 25 years ago. I have a gorgeous green velvet Nomads coat. I browse Braintree‘s site for ethical T shirts and leggings. I’ve recently discovered Epona. I’m in search of the perfect vest top, you see…that’s the upcoming blog in the making. And there are two things I really struggle with. One, the prices. Yes, I know why ethical clothing is so much more expensive, but something within me really struggles to justify spending that much. And maybe the main reason for that is my second point – the ranges. I really struggle to find items I really love. I’m not the person they’re aiming at, I don’t think. Most of the ethical fashion I come across is just not me. If I fell in love with a piece – like the Nomads coat I mentioned before – then I would happily pay the price for it.
- Staying away from the shops
I allow myself to buy a new dress every month. And that has mainly been online. That may seem like a real luxury – I guess it is – but it is just one and it satisfies my need to shop and I do choose very carefully and with much consideration. Apart from that, I tend to stay away from the shops. If you don’t see it, you don’t yearn for it. I fill my life with other activities. Shopping for me is not a leisure activity. If I go in a clothes shop, it is never to browse. It is always with a clear purpose. I know what I am looking for and I will buy only that. And then, I will only buy it if I really love it – I will never buy anything if my head is saying ‘That will do.’ That’s not a good enough reason to buy.
I’m not suggesting you have to walk my path and do it my way. You have to decide on your own path. All I ask is that you decide and don’t just go with the flow. Be your own person – in what you wear and in what you buy.